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Urban Planning and Devolution

On Thursday 18th July, Strathmore Law School hosted a meeting of legal scholars, professionals in urban planning, informal settlement stakeholders and representatives from UN Habitat for a deliberative session on urban planning legislation. The objective of the meeting was to deliberate on the report: Legal and Policy Framework for Urban Development in Kenya: A Case Study of Kisumu Municipality prepared by Prof. Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Dr. Collins Odote for the UN Habitat.

The participants discussed some of the challenges that devolution is likely to create for urban planners. While attempts have been made to develop and implement legislation on urban cities and towns under the new Constitutional dispensation, it was noted that the framework does not adequately address issues of planning. In the absence of proper planning, the accelerated development of urban centres resulting from devolution of government functions to counties is likely to be haphazard and thus unsustainable. Further, stakeholders from informal settlements noted that the urban planning legislative frameworks tend to ignore informal settlements or regard this as a prequel to development or urbanization. Citing the significant population living in informal settlements and their key contribution to the country’s GDP, the participants noted the need to develop urban planning legislation aimed at unlocking the potential of the informal settlements as opposed to merely seeking to eliminate them.

While appreciating the need for legal reforms to improve urban planning, it was also noted that there is need for a societal change in culture with respect to planning. Kenyans, need to appreciate the importance of urban planning as only in this way, can we arrest the mushrooming of unplanned residential settlements. Without a change in culture, well designed urban planning legislation will remain good law on paper but ineffective in practice for lack of enforcement.